By their actions, the Founding Fathers made clear that their primary concern was religious freedom, not the advancement of a state religion. Individuals, not the government, would define religious faith and practice in the United States. Thus the Founders ensured that in no official sense would America be a Christian Republic. Ten years after the Constitutional Convention ended its work, the country assured the world that the United States was a secular state, and that its negotiations would adhere to the rule of law, not the dictates of the Christian faith. The assurances were contained in the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797 and were intended to allay the fears of the Muslim state by insisting that religion would not govern how the treaty was interpreted and enforced. John Adams and the Senate made clear that the pact was between two sovereign states, not between two religious powers.Like I said, I dealt with this extensively, but Carl Pearlston provided context more concisely:
[Original citations were removed because they weren't made available on the referenced web page-MAC]
Pearlston also mentions the questions regarding the provenance of Article 11, into which I also delved. Again, I'm not arguing for a "Christian Nation," I'm just trying to point out that this Treaty with Tripoli is not the magic bullet that some seem to think.
The first treaty was with Morocco in 1786, negotiated by Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin. It was written in Arabic with an English translation. The treaty language assumes that the world was divided between Christians and Moors (Moslems), e.g. "If we shall be at war with any Christian Power ... .", "... no Vessel whatever belonging either to Moorish or Christian Powers with whom the United States may be at War ... .", "...be their enemies Moors or Christians." These along with numerous references to God, e.g., "In the name of Almighty God,", "... trusting in God ...", "Grace to the only God", "...the servant of God ...", "... whom God preserve ...". are the only references to religion in this treaty of Peace and Friendship.
The next was the Treaty of Peace and Amity with Algiers in 1795,written in Turkish. The only reference to religion was in Article 17 which gave the Consul of the United States "... Liberty to Exercise his Religion in his own House [and] all Slaves of the Same Religion shall not be impeded in going to Said Consul's house at hours of prayer... ." The Consul's house was to function in lieu of a Christian church.
The Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation with Tunis in 1797 was in Turkish with a French translation. It begins "God is infinite.", and refers to the Ottoman Emperor "whose realm may God prosper", and to the President of the United States "... the most distinguished among those who profess the religion of the Messiah, ...." Other than a reference to "the Christian year", there is no further mention of religion.
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Tripoli was signed in 1796 in Arabic, and was later translated into English by Joel Barlow, United States Consul General at Algiers. Except for the typical phrases "Praise be to God" and "whom God Exalt", there is no reference to religion other than the aforesaid remarkable Article 11, which reads,
"As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, — and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan (sic) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
The treaty, with this language, was submitted to the Senate by President Adams, and was ratified. Thus, opponents of the 'Christian nation' concept point to this seemingly official repudiation of the very idea. Yet the language is less a repudiation of the role of Christianity in the nation's heritage than a reminder that there was no national established church in the United States as there was in the European states with which Tripoli had previously dealt. This provided reassurance to the Moslem Bey and his religious establishment that religion, in of itself, would not be a basis of hostility between the two nations. None of the other similar treaties with the Barbary states, before or after this treaty, including the replacement treaties signed in 1804 after the Barbary Wars, have any language remotely similar.